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Innovative solutions for improved processing of Beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) with red heartwood (Innovation for beech)

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Enhancing the position of the European beech industry

European beech trees are one of the EU’s most important timber sources. EU-funded researchers developed novel processing technologies and explored potential new markets with the goal of enhancing competitiveness.

Climate Change and Environment

The international competitiveness of EU hardwood industries faces a stumbling block in the form of reddish beech wood called red heartwood at the centre of some beech trees. Most lumber companies and consumers associate beech with its traditional white colour. Thus, beech timber loses its market value when discoloured with red heartwood, primarily for aesthetic reasons. European researchers formed a consortium to address red heartwood concerns with funding for the ‘Innovative solutions for improved processing of Beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) with red heartwood’ (Innovation FOR BEECH) project. They aimed to increase white beech recovery from trees containing red heartwood, to minimise discolouration with post-processing and to increase the market for red heartwood products. Regarding optimisation of white beech recovery, investigators developed a software module for automated detection of red heartwood using a prototype optoelectronic system. The system was also able to recognise defects in wood. Combining it with optimised timber sawing should greatly enhance the quantity of high-quality white beech recovered. The consortium also developed optimised steaming, drying and ultra violet (UV) treatments to produce more homogeneous wood colour without effects on quality. Finally, scientists evaluated the use of red heartwood in various high value-added products including glulam (glued laminated) beams often used inside houses and buildings as exposed beams for roof support, thermowood or thermally modified wood often used for outdoor siding and decking and furniture. Several furniture designs were developed and a market analysis carried out. Results suggested that colour heterogeneity is the main barrier to market penetration of red heartwood furniture and that low cost and modern design will be key motivators to overcome industrial and consumer hesitance. Overall, the Innovation FOR BEECH project resulted in a number of innovations that should have important impact on the enhanced use of red heartwood and thus on the competitiveness of the European timber industry.

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